Rwanda/Burundi/Tanzania/Zaire (September 1994)
by Humanitarian Practice Network September 1994

The RPF advanced southwards and westwards during July capturing Kigali and Butare at the beginning of the month and Gisenye on the Zairean border on 17th July. Two days later a new `Broad-Based Transitional Government’ was inaugurated.

The capture of Gisenye, the transfer of the rump of former Rwandan Government and Army across the border into Zaire and the call, through Radio Milles Collines, for all Hutus to move into Zaire so as to leave the Rwandan Patriotic Front with `an empty country’ resulted in a massive exodus of approximately 1 million people to Goma and the surrounding areas.

What preparedness arrangements had been made were overwhelmed.

Inadequate sanitation arrangements and supplies of safe water resulted in a widespread cholera outbreak. Peak mortality rates in late July and early August were 100-180 times normal – the highest ever recorded in the early stages of a refugee crisis. At least 50,000 people died in and around Goma during this period.

As part of `Opération Turquoise’ French Forces controlled the south west of the country from the end of June until the third week of August when they were withdrawn.

Confrontation between the French Forces and the advancing RPF was avoided. Fearing the RPF advance into the area following the French withdrawal approximately 200,000 people moved across the border to Zaire in mid-August to Bukavu- Uvira area. Agencies were generally better prepared for this exodus. Current number of refugees here approximately 270,000.

Having stabilised the refugee situation, rehabilitation of the administration and infrastructure in Rwanda and returnee programmes for the refugees are now the priority of the Transitional Government and the international community. As of mid-September 93, NGOs were registered with UNREO.

A WFP/FAO mission in August suggested the current population of Rwanda is 5 million compared to a pre-April population of 7.9 million. With 1.9 million living as refugees in neighbouring countries, this implies the death toll resulting from the genocide and conflict at up to 1 million people. The mission estimated 2.5 million would require food assistance for a five-month period until the next harvest.

The difficulties of monitoring population movements in such a dynamic context were revealed by a survey in September by a British Army contingent of UNAMIR which estimated the displaced camp populations within the country at 2.1 million compared to previous estimate of 0.8 million.

An estimated 50,000 refugees have returned from Zaire. Efforts to encourage and facilitate refugees to return under `Operation Homeward’ are hampered by vicious intimidation in the camps where the remnants of the Interahamwe and supporters of the former Government remain powerful.

Insecurity in the camps has forced the withdrawal of relief agencies, in the case of one camp for a five-day period. Presenting the refugees with a favourable picture of conditions and security in Rwanda is proving difficult as RPF forces do appear to have engaged in recriminations and human rights abuses. The slow deployment of UN human rights monitors is hampering efforts to obtain a clearer picture.

The situation in Burundi remains volatile, though since late August the international community has been doing considerably more to try and prevent any repeat of Rwanda’s ethnic and political violence.

Agreement on a new President (Sylvestre Ntibantunganya) was reached in the first week of October and it is hoped this will substantially improve the political situation.

The estimated population requiring assistance is currently 557,000 internally displaced and 220,000 Rwandan refugees. Insecurity and fighting in the northern and central areas of the country has hampered logistical operations and for a one-month period the displaced received less than a 50% ration.

Sanitary conditions are very poor in several camps and in some areas the presence of Government and NGOs is limited as a result of the insecurity.

Efforts to station human rights monitors in the affected areas continue but are hampered by limited funding and lack of vehicles.

In Tanzania, the total refugee caseload was estimated at 538,000 in September. The overall condition and nutritional status of the refugees is reported to be deteriorating compared to the middle of the year, largely as a result of diarrhoeal disease.

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